Statement on Xerces / USDA / General Mills Partnership

Statement made by Scott Hoffman Black during virtual press conference, November 30, 2016

My name is Scott Hoffman Black and I am the Executive Director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. I am delighted to be here today to help announce a new partnership between General Mills, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Xerces Society to help pollinators and the farmers for which these small but important animals provide an essential service.

The Xerces Society is the largest and oldest pollinator conservation organization in the world. We currently have 15 pollinator conservation specialists working closely with farmers, food industry leaders, community organizations and government agencies. This includes 4 joint Xerces/NRCS biologist positions based in regional NRCS offices around the country.

Pollinators are vital to our food systems and our economy. Pollinators (mostly bees) provide one third of the food we eat and in North America alone they are responsible for over $25 billion in agricultural production each year. They pollinate crops such as the fruits, nuts and vegetables on which we rely for our essential vitamins and minerals. Without pollinators we would have a less varied—and less tasty—diet primarily of grains such as wheat, corn and rice.

When most people think about pollinators they think of honey bees. Honey bees are, indeed, important to American agriculture. What many people do not realize is that there are 3,600 species of native bees in the U.S. These bees come in every shape and size from large fuzzy bumble bees to tiny nondescript sweat bees, and they are essential for pollination of many of our crops.

Unfortunately, bees and other pollinators are in decline. Over the last several years, commercial beekeepers have lost around 40% of their hives each year. An analysis by the Xerces Society has shown that over 25% of our bumble bees are at risk of extinction in North America. Butterflies, including the iconic monarch butterfly, have seen dramatic declines as well.

This partnership will address the core issues related to decline of these animals and will help the farmers that rely on them. Pollinators need three things to survive and thrive: 1) an abundance of flower-rich habitat on which to feed season long, 2) places to nest (or in the case of butterflies a host plant for caterpillars), and 3) a refuge from pesticides. This partnership will help farmers and other partners to meet all three of these habitat needs on hundreds of thousands of acres of farms across the U.S. This habitat will bring an additional benefit, natural pest suppression due to the beneficial insects it will also support.

Through the new partnership being announced today, thanks to General Mills, the Xerces Society and the NRCS will expand upon their existing collaboration, increasing the number of joint Xerces/NRCS partner biologists, and providing much needed new conservation support in the Midwest, Northeast and California. Xerces is honored be part of this important effort.

I would now like to introduce Jerry Lynch, Chief Sustainability Officer at General Mills.